Kevin & Jackie Freiberg, Authors, Bochy Ball: The Chemistry of Winning and Losing in Baseball, Business and Life
Whether you’re a fan or not, there are countless lessons to borrow from baseball and apply in business. As book critic, Jim Pawlak observed, “Both employ ‘players’ with specialties. Both have All-Stars (aging, prime, budding,) “A” and “B (bench)” players. Both deal with roster turnover and compete for free-agent talent. Both face competition and make in-game adjustments because of changing situations. Both deal with budget constraints. To win, their players must be a team.”
We know a guy who lives and dies for baseball who is as gifted as any CEO we’ve met. We’ve worked Bruce Bochy, manager of the three-time World Champion San Francisco Giants for over 20 years. As CEOs and business leaders what can we learn from one of the greatest baseball managers—ever?
1. Know More About Your Opponent Than Anyone
There is something powerful to learn from how lions prepare for a hunt. They study—intently. They follow a herd for days, picking up patterns, and identifying its weaker members. They take note of everything and patiently wait for the perfect moment to attack. Their assault is never hasty. It’s always strategic, intentional, well-coordinated, and timely.
This is how Bochy prepares for every game.
He devours scouting reports, watches endless streams of video and studies the analytics. He talks to his coaches and players about other coaches and players. He has a working knowledge of the nuances in each ballpark. And, he studies other managers trying to understand their patterns and temperaments to think like they do.
In the dugout during a game, his advance preparation enables him to process information quickly and respond to what’s happening in real time with speed, agility and surprise. In many cases, it forces his opponents to act before they are ready. Processing the quantitative and objective part of the game in advance also frees him to think intuitively and creatively in real-time when faced with what seem like endless contingencies.
Historians say, General Patton read everything he could about his enemies and then used their own strategies and tactics against them. He often knew his enemies as well as they knew themselves. If you think you know your opponent from intelligence gathered last year, think again, your intel is old news. They’ve changed. Just like you. Getting your hands on real-time intel should always be your expectation.
2. Challenge Players to Own It
Great teams are created by talented, competent people who want nothing more than to solve problems that matter and are passionate about playing full-throttle to do so. If you treat these people like adults, they act like adults. Then, manage and coach the exceptions.
Bochy is not big on rules. Consequently, the clubhouse doesn’t have many. Rules are punitive and demeaning. They are designed to control people. More rules mean more things to control and more power to wield. If you want people to be themselves, if you want a culture that fosters freedom and unity, oppression is not the way to do it.
Instead of rules, Giants players follow an invisible code that has been intentionally communicated over the years through Bochy’s talks, media interviews, and one on ones with players. It’s not written down anywhere, but this code permeates the clubhouse: Choose service over self-interest. Speak the language of respect. Play like a warrior. Have fun. These clubhouse practices are protected and reinforced over and over again.
Essentially, Bochy has laid the foundation, turned the clubhouse over to his players and said, “This is your home. You manage it and make it what you want it to be.” In your organization, who carries the flag, who laid the foundation and who owns culture and chemistry? What would it look like if you took a radical step toward changing the rule makers and instead, opted for inspiring a movement of full throttle, all in players?
3. Expectations Matter – Believe in Your People
A manager who expects a lot from individual team members creates an atmosphere where team members expect a lot from themselves. Players who expect a lot from themselves also expect a lot from other players. This cycle elevates the entire team. Here’s why.
Expectations elevate. Effective leaders push us to see beyond what we see. Their expectations whisper: “I see something in you that you don’t yet see in yourself. But trust me, I wouldn’t put you in this position or ask this of you if I didn’t think you could do it.” These expectations broaden our expectations of ourselves. Before a game in San Diego, Bochy told starting pitcher, Tim Lincecum, “You’re the best I got.” Lincecum proceeded to go out and pitch a no-hitter against the Padres.
Regardless of the pressure they’re under, when players look into the eyes of a coach or CEO, what they should see is somebody who believes in them.
Expectations affirm. They essentially say, “You have what it takes.” If someone you deem credible tells you that you have Championship Blood, you start to believe it. If your coaches call you the best late-inning, comeback team in the game, you believe it. If the people around you build a narrative about how calm you are under pressure, guess what? You see yourself and your teammates as calm under pressure. Are your expectations clear or confusing? Are they affirming or disparaging? Do your expectations inspire vision and draw the best out of your team? Or do they infuse fear and drag the team down?
Expectations strengthen resolve. When innovation and change get messy and growing a business gets tough, expectations fuel the fires of grit and perseverance. Bochy’s expectations of his players strengthened the collective will of the team. His teams have played more elimination games in the postseason than perhaps any other Major League team, yet the result has been three World Championships in five years.
A CEO who misses an opportunity to hold a mirror up in front of his or her people, showing them who they can be and what they can accomplish, shuns fiduciary responsibility. After all, talent makes capital dance.
4. Give the Bench a Chance
Playing favorites doesn’t build chemistry it creates a time bomb. Bochy isn’t afraid to give rookies or struggling bench players opportunity in high-pressure situations. He’ll trust a guy to play a different position when many managers wouldn’t consider it. He has the confidence to look beyond payroll and pedigree with regard to playing the right player in the right position at the right time. How about you, are you looking around to develop new, fresh and ambitious talent? Do you give rookies a chance? Are you coaching to develop your bench?
In Game 5 of the 2014 National League Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, Bochy’s gut instinct was to give Travis Ishikawa, a bench player who had been called up from the minors in August, one more at bat before taking him out of the game. That decision will be forever etched in Giant’s lore. Ishikawa blasted a three-run walk-off homer that clinched the pennant for the Giants and sent them to the World Series.
5. Cultivate Team Chemistry
Chemistry is what people talk about after an athletic team wins a championship, a project team creates a game-changing innovation, a start-up beats the odds, or a sales team lands a coveted piece of business.
Think of a time when you were a part of doing something significant that energized, fulfilled, and enriched your life. We’re betting that it involved a special bond with others who shared a common goal and commitment to a cause worth fighting for. We’re betting that you cared more about what you could achieve together than any glory you got on your own. We’re also betting that you were undeterred by insufficient resources, by odds that seemed insurmountable, and by critics that said it couldn’t be done.
That’s chemistry. It’s what helped you beat those odds, create maniacal focus, seamless teamwork, and unabashed accountability.
You can’t force chemistry or legislate it, but you can create the conditions for it to flourish. Bochy does this by continually challenging his players to play for something bigger, to appreciate and leverage their differences, and to make each other better.
He demonstrates these virtues himself. He would never throw a player under the bus publicly in the media. He assumes responsibility when things go bad and deflects praise to his players when they win. His leadership by example is infectious. The result is a team-first (not a me-first) mentality among players.
6. Let the Pundits Strengthen Your Resolve
How is it that the Giants have been able to beat far more talented teams, many times over?
Because there is a difference between what we can do and what we will do. The talent of a team determines what it can do. Resolve determines what it will do. Over the course of three World Championships, people have said things like, “The Giants pulled it out in the end by a sheer force of the will.” “On this day, they wanted it more.” And, “They willed it to happen.” All these statements point to the raw determination in a team that says, “Go ahead, tell us we can’t, and we’ll show you we will.”
The irreverent and iconic founder of Southwest Airlines, Herb Kelleher, told us many years ago that the he won’t knee-jerk to Wall Street analysts and the media in making decisions on behalf of Southwest. “They don’t know the creativity and fierce resolve of our people.” Kelleher told us. “They don’t know our capability and they don’t run our business.” Apparently, it worked. Southwest celebrated 35 consecutive years of profitability when Kelleher retired as Chairman of the Board in 2008 and the company has been profitable ever since.
The Giants, like Southwest and perhaps the Elon Musks and Jeff Bezos of today, have often been dismissed by the so-called experts, but rather than let this discourage them, they have leveraged the criticism, used it as a call-to-arms and focused more intensely on their cause than on their critics.
If character, culture and team chemistry are on your radar. If kicking butt in business is your objective. The parallels between business and America’s favorite Pastime are easily transferable. Which of these ideas resonates most with you?
About the Authors
Kevin and Jackie Freiberg are co-authors of the book, Bochy Ball: The Chemistry of Winning and Losing in Baseball, Business and Life. And 7 others.